Telemedicine services yet to be revived in provincesHealth Ministry had allocated Rs5 million to each province to resume the service in 2020.
Last week, a 32-year-old Nepali woman in Cyprus, contacted doctors at Danfe Health Care, an organisation that recently started telemedicine services.
The woman from Nepalgunj, who went to the island nation in the eastern Mediterranean, some 18 months ago for employment, told doctors that she had been unable to consult a psychiatrist as she didn’t speak or understand the local language.
“The woman had anxiety disorder before going to Cyprus,” Dr Kanchan Dahal, a clinical psychiatrist at Bhaktapur Hospital, who counselled the woman, told the Post. “Due to excessive workload and worries about her children, her problems have exacerbated.”
Similarly, a 30-year-old man from Pokhara, currently in Japan, contacted the organisation for medical help after suffering from intervertebral disk prolapse.
“His disk was ruptured due to his work,” Dr Kabin Maleku, programme head at the organisation, told the Post. “We have put him in touch with a consultant neurologist who suggested some medicines which can be purchased over the counter.”
Danfe Health Care, which started telemedicine services targeting Nepalis working abroad, a month ago, said that the number of people seeking medical help has been on the rise.
The organisation, which had started monitoring health conditions of people placed in home isolation due to infection of Covid-19 some six months ago, said that telemedicine services were started in association with the Non-Resident Nepali Association, and are provided free of charge.
“We have been providing consultant service from the best Nepali doctors serving in Nepal and abroad,” Dr Prabhat Adhikari, founder of the organisation, told the Post.
Telemedicine services are not new, and the organisation is not the only one running the service in Nepal. The service has been provided by various organisations for years and was formally launched a decade ago by the Ministry of Health and Population in 25 districts under the first phase and five more in the second.
But due to apathy of the concerned agencies to continue the service, none of the health facilities has been running the services.
Doctors say that in countries like Nepal, where ensuring affordable and accessible community health care is a major challenge, telemedicine could be a game-changer.
“Had the service been operational during the ongoing pandemic, it could have been a boon,” Dr Mingmar Gyelgen Sherpa, former director-general at the Department of Health Services, credited for the launch of telemedicine services a decade ago, told the Post. “People wouldn’t have to be deprived of basic health care services, and a lot of lives could have been saved.”
In the fiscal year 2019-20, the Ministry of Health and Population had allocated Rs5 million to revive telemedicine services in each province, but none of the provinces has resumed the service yet.
“Lack of vision and willpower in the authorities concerned is the main hindrance,” Sherpa added. “Countries throughout the world have been providing the best health care service by using telemedicine.”
Due to the rise in the infection rate, restrictions enforced by the authorities, and fear of infections, thousands of people throughout the country had been deprived of health care services during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country faced setbacks in several health indicators such as ones related to maternal health, child health, nutrition, immunisation among others as a result.
With the use of telemedicine service, authorities can provide the best consultant services not only to people living within the country but also to those abroad, according to doctors.
“Yes we could not resume the service, as all of us (officials at the Health Ministry) have had to focus on the pandemic,” said Dr Tara Nath Pokhrel, director at the Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services. “We have to bring the service back into operation and the government will allocate budget for it next year as well.”
Due to the impact of the pandemic, even people, who did not have any health problems earlier, now suffer from anxiety and depression, experts say.
“If an NGO can easily provide telemedicine service, why not the government, which has a huge pool of doctors and experts?” questioned Adhikari, founder of the Danfe Health Care.
(Danfe Health Care can be reached at 9802314739 and also through Viber or Whatsapp for medical help.)